Monday, October 18, 2010

"Good Enough for Who It's for"

Years ago, four of us went to the Virgin Islands on a bare-boat vacation. We chartered a 33 foot sailboat out of St. Thomas and spent a week going from island to island, living on the boat and going ashore when we thought there would be something of interest (usually a bar.) One such place was on St. John Island, a little establishment called Redbeard's Saloon.

To get to Redbeard's by boat, we sailed into a long cove in the middle of the southern shore; we had to anchor quite a way off because it's very shallow as you get closer in to shore. So there's a long row to a little dock, and then an even longer walk up a fairly steep hill to get to the tavern. There is a road that lets travellers coming from the posh resort hotels on the north shore drive up, but where's the fun in that?

Once at the top of the hill you discover Redbeard's - it's the only building there, and not much of a building at that. I don't remember the details, but I think "rustic" might be a little generous in describing the accommodations. The cooking, as I recall, was all done on a barbeque pit out back and I'm pretty sure there was a generator to keep the beer cold. That was pretty much it, except of course for the people there, who were wonderfully generous and pleasant to be around. It just felt good to be there. Oh, and the view from the top of the hill - wow!

It's important, I think, when you happen upon a place like Redbeard's that you take home a souvenir to help you relive the good times back home, when you're snowed in and wondering why you came back home to begin with. And of course, Redbeard's had all kinds of suitable items for sale just for this purpose. I love T-shirts, so that's what I picked out. It was kind of a salmon color with the Redbeard's logo, under which it said: "Redbeard's Saloon, St. John, USVI - Good Enough for Who It's for."

I knew exactly what that slogan meant, what it was really saying: there are tourists who would go there, take one look around and declare the place a dump, and leave (they probably drove there); and then there are tourists like us - a motley crew if ever there was one - who take great joy in finding a simple out of the way place where the proprietors are friendly, the beer is cold, and the view is spactacular. Good enough for who it's for - good enough for us!

There are lots of great place to go when your cruising in the Virgins and we went to a lot of them. I'm not even sure that Redbeard's was our clear favorite at the end of the trip, but I am sure I will never forget it, because it didn't try or pretend to be something it wasn't, it just tried to be "good enough for who it's for," and I think there's a lot to be said for that. I heard a few years ago that Redbeard's had closed and that made me a little sad, not because I thought I'd ever go back but because I think that any place "good enough for who it's for" should be successful for as long as it wants to be. I just hope it wasn't replaced by a mega-mansion or luxury hotel built to cater to "those other people" for whom Redbeard's wasn't good enough.

So if everything you have or do is good enough for who it's for, then you're probably a pretty happy camper - I know I am. I guess it's just another way of saying that being content with what you have is the key to happiness, and I truly believe that.

And if you ever happen to find yourself on St. John, USVI, please walk up that hill and take a look around to see what's there now. Whatever it is, I hope it's good enough...

Just did a little googling and got some updated info on Redbeard's - apparently a new place with the same name opened at another location on St. John. It sounds a little more - what's the word I want? - upscale, that's it, than the original. But here's the word on how the end came to the real Redbeard's Saloon (it seems kind of appropriate):

Joe Jackson May 14th, 2007 06:53

A couple of facts for the uninformed. Redbeards was Ted Johnson’s bar out where Skinny’s is now. It’s posted motto was ‘GOOD ENOUGH FOR WHO IT’S FOR’. Ted used a chainsaw to dismantle the old place when he was leaving. I understand he’ll be doing some guest bartender gigs when it opens. It’s Wally from Larry’s that’s opening it… I wish him all the best.

Here's a link to see what the "new" Redbeard's Saloon was like:

I'm pretty sure the "ambience" wasn't exactly the same, but it was probably good enough for a different crowd. I'm pretty sure that if my crew and I had showed up at the new place, they would have thrown us out - it sounds like the kind of place we would have avoided anyway.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My "Conspiracy Theory"

It seems like our country is in pretty rough shape - the economy is down, unemployment is up, and the general mood seems to be, "Throw the bums out." I have a theory as to how we got into this mess; technically I guess I don't think it's the result of a "conspiracy" as such, but I certainly don't think it happened by accident, mismanagement or just plain bad luck. I think it happened as a result of deliberate decisions by a very small group of instigators.

Some men - and maybe women, but I can't think of any - have enormous wealth; more money than you or I can even imagine, even more money than some pretty good-sized nations. They like to hold on to their riches and make even more, and at least a few of them, but certainly not all, view government - any government - as an obstacle to their accumulation of wealth and power. Since they have virtually unlimited financial resources they can spend obscenely huge amounts of money to influence governmental policies, especially the ones that affect their interests. But what would make them really, really happy would be to reduce the effectiveness of government to a point where it could not restrict their activities in any meaningful way.

I don't think it matters much which party is in power, as these men have enough money to influence any attempts to impair their operations either by legislation or regulation, no matter who proposes them. But they do seem to be more likely to support "small government conservative" candidates than their "progressive" opponents.

The presidential election in 2000 produced an administration which I suspect was very much to the liking of my fictional "conspirators." In George W. Bush they had a president who was very sympathic to their cause and, more importantly, was easily influenced by his vice-president, Dick Cheney. Cheney, you may remember, selected himself to be Bush's running mate, and if we are looking for the first "act in furtherance of the conspiracy", this may be it. Cheney is more than just sympathetic to the plutocrats, he is one of them. He travels in their circles, his interests are their interests. With Bush/Cheney in office, "the future was so bright, they had to wear shades." One of Cheney's first acts was to convene a group to determine the nation's energy priorities - you know how that worked out.

Then a terrible thing happened - terrible for the nation, terrible for its citizens, terrible for the world. But maybe not so terrible for my fictional conspirators, because on 9/11/2001 they were presented with a valuable commodity: a reason to take the USA to war in Afghanistan. War always benefits these men - it makes them richer, it increases their influence, and it detracts attention from their other operations. For them, one war is good, but two wars at the same time is a bonus. So they found a reason to invade Iraq. And we citizens weren't asked to make any sacrifice, unless we or our loved ones were in the armed forces - for most of us it was life as usual. (For the record, I don't subscribe to any theory that the events of 9/11 were caused by anyone other than a small group of Muslim extremists bent on destroying our way of life. I'm not saying the plutocrats were in any way responsible for events on that tragic day, but these are men who know an opportunity when one presents itself.)

So with the nation at war on two fronts, at a cost of billions and billions of dollars per month, it seemed like there was just one more thing to do to ensure government's effectiveness would be severely diminished for generations to come: enact a tax cut. And with that simple act, our fate was sealed. With our nation hemmoraging resources on two wars and with less tax revenue coming in, the government would not have enough money to fund all of its programs, let alone enact any new ones, without running huge deficits, and that's exactly what has come to pass. It did not matter who won the election in 2008; economic woes were assured for everybody except the very, very rich who of course just got richer. I don't think anybody could have changed the course of events after the second Bush/Cheney term.

So let me be clear: I think it's possible, maybe even probable, that the current economic and political state of our nation is the intended consequence of policies enacted by Bush/Cheney at the behest of a small but powerful group of wealthy individuals to advance an agenda that served their interests. Someone (Reagan maybe?) said he wanted to reduce government to a size so small that he could put it in the bathtub and drown it. The plutocrats, I think, have another plan to achieve the same result: starve government of the funds it needs for all of its programs, and the electorate will throw it out in protest. A government in turmoil is almost as good as no government at all.

Just so you know, this is my opinion only. I do not have any facts, other than generally available news accounts, to support my "conspiracy theory" and I am not accusing anyone of illegal acts. But still, when I ask myself, "how did we get in this fix, anyway?" this seems as plausible as any other explanation. So take it for what it's worth, or leave it.

Today is October 17, the date my late father was born in 1907. So Happy Birthday, Dad - I hope you are in a happy place.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why "Dirigonzo"?

I'm a relative newcomer to this whole "blogging" thing. I'm just starting to understand how things work here and I know I have a lot more to learn before I'll even be at the "beginner" level of competence. So when I went to Blogger to start this enterprise ("why " I did is another story altogether) one of the first things I had to do was come up with a "display name".

It seems to me that a display name on the internet is a lot like a "handle" used to be when CB was all the rage; you remember: "Hey, Rubber Duck, this here's Rough Rider - what's your 10-20?" It's something to identify yourself to others without telling them who you are. Some display names are funny, some are punny, others are descriptive (but often misleading), obscure or confusing, some seem random and a lot are just lame.

So I gave some thought to what my display name should be. I wanted something distinctive, descriptive and maybe a little bit clever - after all, it's all anybody reading my posts or comments knows about me, and we all know how important "first impressions" are. I even floated a couple of trial balloons just to see how they felt, but nothing really clicked the way I wanted it to.

Then recently I read about a web site called "DirigoBlue" and I thought, "Wow, I can work with that!" It's a simple yet clever play on words. "Dirigo" (DEER-igo, NOT deer-EYE-go, please) is the Maine State motto (it means "I lead" or something like that); and Blue in this case was used in the Blue-state, Red-state political context. So taken together DirigoBlue tells us that the web site expresses the Democratic point of view. I like it!

I'm a Mainer so "Dirigo" became the focal point to create my display name. Diri-go, Diri-went, Diri-something. Then Dirigo became Dirigone(Crazy, Nuts, Stark-raving mad, etc., etc.) and then, there it was: Dirigonzo. GENIUS! Who doesn't love Gonzo, the weird looking critter with the big nose on The Muppets? And Gonzo journalism is pretty much my style of writing (I did not know this until I "Googled" it.) So Dirigo combines with Gonzo to produce "Dirigonzo" and there you have it - the perfect display name for me.

Then, because I'm starting to learn about these things, I googled "Dirigonzo", just to make sure it wasn't already being used by a porn-star or some other unsavory type and nothing - no hits at all! So I made it mine, and if you google it now all you will get is - ME; my blogs or other sites I've posted comments on. So I am Dirigonzo, and Dirigonzo is me and no one else!

That's why Dirigonzo - aren't you glad you asked?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Wow, another "binary day" less than a fortnight since the last one. When I last commented on the topic I wasn't focused on the circumstances that produce "digital dates", so I didn't anticipate that another, even more symmetrical, one would present itself so soon. In computer language today's date would read "on/off-on/off-on/off". I have no idea what that means but it seems incomprehensible to me that all digital operations are based on those two conditions: 1("on") and 0("off"). It kind of reminds me of an old joke about worrying about life: it went through a long series of "either-or" scenarios and culminated in the situation of, "so either you live (1), and everything's OK; or you die (0), and you won't care - either way, no worries."

So maybe that's the bottom line, even for an analog kind of guy like me: Every day is a "1" and we should live it to the fullest; or it's a "0" and there's nothing we can do about it. So here's wishing a long and continuous series of "1s" to everyone - come to think of it, 11-11-11 is exactly 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day from today - that sounds like a pretty good omen to me!

And just so you'll be prepared, the other "binanary days" between now and then are: 10-11-10; 11-01-10; 11-10-10; 11-11-10;01-01-11; 01-10-11; 01-11-11; 10-01-11; 10-10-11; 10-11-11; 11-01-11; and 11-11-11.

But every day - binary, analog, whatever - either you live (that's good); or you die ("no worries"). That we will live and then die is predestined, but how we live is up to each of us and defines who we are. And what becomes of us when we die - well, that's a topic for another discussion altogether, isn't it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

What is Government Good For?

Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, or maybe the Apocalypse is closer than I thought, but today I read and agreed with an Op-Ed piece by a writer whose columns usually leave me incensed, enraged, or both. He wrote, "I'm a small-government conservative, but society exists so we can live in peace together and not just to enable individuals to take actions that might benefit themselves but harm the community around them." Well, nothing to disagree with there as far as I am concerned.

But a recent news item from Tennessee got me thinking about what I think is the proper role of government in our lives. The story, in case you missed it, was about a local vounteer fire company that had allowed a residence to be totally destroyed by fire because the owners had not paid a $75.00 fee for fire protection. The fire-fighters were on hand, but only to keep the fire from spreading to other homes for which the fee had been paid. This really upset me.

If I were to make a prioritized list of the services I want government to provide, public safety (including fire protection) would be pretty near the top of the list. National defense, public safety, public education, these seem to me to be "core" responsibilites of government. In our society we pay for these services with our tax dollars, and we, or at least I, expect the government to provide the services without exception. And if I haven't paid my taxes, well, I still expect the fire department to show up and put out the fire. Delivery of government services is not dependent on tax payments being up to date, nor should they be. Tax collection is a totally separate matter, and maybe that's a subject for another post (I know quite a lot about the topic), but even a tax scofflaw can expect the cops or fire department to show up when he calls 911.

If government doesn't provide the services, or they get "privitized", then scenarios like the one described above become possible. To me, this is totally unacceptable - we shouldn't have to buy "protection" to keep ourselves safe from crime or natural disaster. In fact, government should protect us from those who sell "protection" - maybe in this instance that includes the Tennessee fire company that watched that residence burn while they stood by and did nothing. How can anybody even do that?

That's what I think government is good for.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The "Brat Pack"

I'm a dog-lover - I've had one or (usually) more dogs since I was a little boy. I still remember the night my dad came home with our very first dog, a light-tan colored German Shepherd puppy. My mother must not have known beforehand that a dog was coming into the family because a big argument ensued, but once a little boy has been given a puppy it's very hard to take it away from him and so the dog stayed. I promptly named him "Sandy Beach" for the color of his fur, and of course that was instantly shortened to just "Sandy". He was truly a great dog - loyal, protective, and totally devoted to his family. He lived a full life and I had gone off to college when the time for his final ride to the vet came. I still miss him.

So of course the first thing I did when I got out of the Army and moved back to Maine was to get a dog - a German Shepherd, of course. And because I didn't want him to be lonely while I was at work (my office didn't allow dogs) I went to the Shelter and got him a pal, a small poodle, the most pathetic looking dog I had ever seen. They became fast friends, and they lived to be "old" by dog standards, but of course their times came, too. A dog's time always comes.

The next 30 years or so brought a succession of dogs (and wives) into my life, and I loved them all dearly. So when my Cocker Spaniel "Oliver" and Dalmatian "Darcy" left within a few weeks on each other about six years ago, I thought my dog days were over. I was approaching 60 years of age and married for the fourth time, and it seemed like a good time to go dogless. Fate, of course, intervened.

Fate in the person of my wife, who had always wanted to raise Labrador Retrievers, so she arranged to pick a female yellow lab from a friend's litter. I wasn't consulted and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have mattered if I had objected (like I ever would!) so another dog was in the offing for the Mainer household. But fate is fickle, and as luck would have it the litter included just one black lab, a male and don't you know he was just too irresistable to pass up, so we got TWO puppies, the yellow female to breed ("Ellie"), and "Lance". And it was made abundantly clear that these dogs were not MY dogs, they were HER dogs, which was fine with me.

Until I opened the local paper one day and there, in the full page ad for the local animal shelter, was the picture of the cutest, most adorable Cocker Spaniel I had ever seen. And I thought, "what the heck, if we're going to have two dogs around the house we might as well have three." And so "Buddy" came to join the pack; he was just a few months older than the labs and since I never told him he was "adopted" he still doesn't know he's not one of them.

So for a couple of years three dogs romped and played at the Mainer household, and life was good. I fenced in the whole back yard so the pack (when you have 3 dogs they're a pack) didn't have to be "walked" constantly, we all shared in their care and upbringing, and everything seemed idyllic. "Seemed" being the operative word, because then a funny thing happened.

She left - I mean here one day, gone the next. Moved out, vamoosed, adios daddy-o. And guess what - she left the dogs! ALL OF THEM! So not only was I newly and unexpectedly single, but I had 3 dogs to take care of. This was almost four years ago so at least by now they have grown out the "teenage" stage where they felt like they had to chew everything (they ate my couch - literally!) and break out of the yard to go on adventures on a regular basis (now they just do it occasionally.) And I've grown quite fond of them - I even call the labs "my" dogs now since it doesn't appear that she is ever coming back to claim them.

Three dogs are a lot of company - not so good at conversation, but a lot of company and quite entertaining. We've worked out a routine that works pretty well for all of us; and it's always exciting when company comes.

So that's the saga of how the "Brat Pack" (because they really are spoiled brats) came to be- Lance, the alpha(minus) male (90 pounds of sinew and muscle, controlled by a single brain cell that may or may not be engaged at any given moment); Ellie, the pack bitch (her motto: If it moves, makes a noise or smells funny, it needs to be barked at); and Buddy, the lap lab (and the best "mouser" a dog ever was). Oh, and Thor the cat, the pack mascot (he and Buddy have a very strange and unnatural relationship.)

I do love them all dearly but my deepest, darkest fear is that, at 51/2 years old, they could outlive me! I suppose from a practical point of view I should make provisions for them in case that should happen (I wonder how my 2 sons will feel about sharing their inheritance with 3 dogs?) But whatever happens, one thing is for certain: NO MORE DOGS FOR ME!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Today is 10-01-10

It seems like all the techo-geeks get excited when a date consists of all "1"s and "0"s. Apparently it has something to do with "binary language" which I guess is what all computers and other digital devices use. Well, I'm an analogue guy in the digital world so I don't understand any of it. I mean, I have a pretty awesome collection of music dating back years and years, and it's all on cassette tape! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find cassette players nowadays? I do have a few CDs as a concession to the CD player in my truck, but from what I understand they are pretty much obsolete, too. Digital, but obsolete - "MP3" seems to be the way to go now but that's probably being replaced as I write.

I'm not complaining - digital HDTV, smart phones, cars that are smarter than their drivers, etc, etc, etc; I mean what's not to like! Well, OK, maybe I have one small nit to pick. Is it possible that we are spending too much time using binary language and not enough time using human language? I don't text, tweet or spend time on facebook but it seems like everybody else in the modern world does! While they're driving their cars, for Pete's sake. First,what news is so important that it can't wait until you get where you're going to tell it, and second, if it's that important wouldn't it be better delivered in person, or at least by phone (you know, so they can hear the excitement/joy/frustration/sadness/whatever in your voice)?

I'm meeting someone for the first time in a little while. My first impression of her was based on emails exchanged, then we talked on the phone and my impression of her changed remarkably just based on the her voice, choice of phrases, and the humurous spirit I could detect in her speech. Basic human communications stuff I think. And I'm sure my impression will change some more when I meet her in person and I can see her expressions, body language, and (hopefully) the "twinkle" in her eyes. It's called getting to know someone, and I just don't see how that happens in a totally digital world.

So happy 10-01-10 everyone. To celebrate, I'm going out to to have dinner with a real live person, and maybe make a new friend. I hope you'll have a chance to get out of the digital world for a while, too.